We will declare frankly that nothing is clear in this world. Only fools and charlatans know and understand everything.-Anton Chekov
Scientific literacy is an intellectual vaccine against the claims of charlatans who would exploit ignorance -Neil DeGrasse Tyson
Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored -Aldous Huxley
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine -REM
In the 1946 comedy Road to Utopia Bing Crosby and Bob Hope played two vaudeville performers hoping to make their fortune by discovering gold in Alaska. There are maps, chases, thugs and mugs, gals, jokes, songs, double crossings and hi jinks galore. The Utopia alluded to is never to be found by this caravan of clowns, but the world does not come to a crashing end either. The audience leaves delighted, entertained and amused and maybe humming the new sure-fire hit Personality by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen performed in the movie by the lusciously beautiful Dorothy Lamour.
World War II was over and after four years of hoping for the safe return of their children from faraway places they had likely never heard of before with strangely exotic names like Anzio Beach and Guadalcanal and fearing the imminent parades down American streets by broad shouldered blonde haired German speaking soldiers wearing the crooked crosses of fascism or the near certain invasion of emperor worshiping slant eyed heathens on to our Pacific shores; Americans were ready for a few laughs. The bravery of GI’s across the globe and the resultant suicide of the malevolent misfit with the bad mustache along with the twin urban devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki put to an end the global conflict. Unfortunately, however it brought with it a new reality based on the idea of mutually assured destruction should anyone else acquire the same technologies, which eventually is exactly what happened.
For, and in, that moment Americans were more than ready to put aside the maladies that remained under the surface at home as well, content to watch movies, buy cars and homes and otherwise indulge themselves in the consumerist spoils of the recent worldwide conflagration. The infections of racism, antisemitism, class ism of many varieties as well as the silent poverties lurking underneath the veneer of a seemingly bountiful society could all wait in line for another decade before being attended to. Gone was the depression that ruled the prior two decades and over was the universal conflict and propagandist newsreels that went with it. The Best Years of Our Lives illuminated the realities of returning to everyday life after experiencing the horrors of war while It’s a Wonderful Life reminded us that the idea of community is central to the ideal of the American experience. Having the world brought to the brink of utter destruction had the effect, at least for a while, of magnifying the goodness of a life worth fighting for, whoever and wherever it may be. Utopias may not be attainable but striving for something akin to one is more than worth the effort. Franklin Roosevelt may have been gone but his words from over a decade earlier advising Americans that the only thing they had to fear was fear itself as he took the reins of a government in the very midst of an economic maelstrom, reverberated loudly in the minds and hearts of the nation. Americans had battled the twin miseries of war and depression and having survived them both now prepared for a new and better tomorrow, confident that anything was possible.
From that time and space, however much as reality might have been at odds with illusion, let us examine, in this time and space how far we have come. I took a walk through one of Manhattan’s most iconic department stores recently, on a fairly nice day in the middle of the afternoon, a time when human beings generally amble through its concourses in some volume. On this day, on the bottom and main selling floor, most of the folks I saw were employees. I had previously stopped by a local Duane Reade, as well as a CVS and neither had anymore hand sanitizer in stock. On various check out lines as well as on the subway, most of the conversations I overheard had to do with Covid-19, or the Coronavirus. It seemed like almost half of the time on each of the national TV news broadcasts was laser focused on the virus. And now Italy and all of its 60 million people are under quarantine.
The presidential point person is a man who presided over a spike in HIV infections as Indiana governor because lifting bans on needle exchange programs in quite a few counties was something he was adverse to doing, until he had no other choice. He also dissuaded condom use and claimed that smoking doesn’t kill. The administration he serves in has also effectively gutted the global disease fighting budgets of the CDC, the NSC, DHS and HHS. At a time when pragmatic caution and education are needed absent the whims of anxiety and uncorroborated innuendo instead we are told to watch the stock market and wait for warmer weather.
I have received numerous notices neither judgmental or hysterical from entities I have supplied services to, educating and advising me on coping with this current crisis in a pragmatic manner. But alas, for every corporate element doing the right thing by seeking to engage, educate and protect their employees there are any number of bad actors aspiring to protect only their bottom line. A large organization recently disseminated a memo to employees regarding not their (or their customers) safety and care but rather, what steps should be taken to protect the company’s image should any media be encountered. While it is not uncommon to prohibit lower level employees from engaging with the media, there is also usually a referral made. Instead instructions were given to take the contact information of the person and relay assurances that “someone would get back to them”.
Meanwhile, convicted PTL fraudster Jim Bakker shills for a product which claims to “cure” Covid-19 within 12 hours despite absolutely no scientific proof or approval from the FDA. He has been issued a cease and desist letter from the AG of New York State who promises further action if the order is ignored. One official in Missouri has stated that contrary to Mr. Bakker’s claim of the product being a cure for Covid-19 it actually may be carcinogenic.
No sooner was a peace deal signed with the Taliban in Afghanistan after what was described as a “very good phone call” than US drones bombed positions of their new partners in peace. The Afghan government itself was largely eliminated from the talks, giving way to rampant speculation that this was less of a peace deal and more of a political opportunity for an unpopular president in an election year.
Despite the “good economic news” homelessness on the streets of our major cities appears to be growing at epidemic proportions like a societal side salad to go with the prophesied pandemic of Covid-19. However, now even the economy has started to receive some bad reviews if one is paying attention to the most recent Dow tabulations. Despite rosy unemployment figures, income inequality continues to rise and bang for the available buck continues to wither for most working-class people.
While an old white man mismanages all he lays his tiny hands on, a nation hoping to eradicate the infections of his guardianship turns to two other old white men in desperation for a remedy.
Migrations of vast quantities of human beings are not just happening on our most southern border, if one is paying careful attention, but also with increasing frequency and numbers globally. Just take a look at the multitudes of Syrians fleeing to Turkey and now on into Greece. Dig a little deeper and read about the astonishing inhumane treatment they are receiving by some of their hosts for the crime of seeking a measure of safety for their families from the hostilities of brutal warfare where far too often, as is always the case, the victims are children.
In India, a nuclear power with over a billion people, bordered by another hostile nuclear power (Pakistan), the Prime Minister has subjected an entire subset of its population to degradation of their very humanity by making the tool of a participatory democracy, citizenship, unavailable to Muslim immigrants . There are more than 200 million Muslims in India, that is more than two thirds of the entire population of the United States. The recent New Delhi riots are the result of this hateful, discriminatory nationalistic legislation.
Meanwhile, in a place called The Holy Land, official business is conducted by a man whose own justice system has indicted him for corruption. He is aided in this process by the son in law of our own suspect -in chief as they endeavor to create a peace process that they can be comfortable with but which like the situation in Afghanistan does not involve one of the principal parties, the Palestinians. The Israeli PM and leader of the free world both ironically seem less than concerned about the “free world” and more about their own prospects for freedom in the near and not so near future. The occupant of the Oval Office should consult a history book and study a time in his own native city to see how such alliances, like the one between Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll and Dutch Shultz worked out for both of them.
A 16-year-old girl has provided the megaphone for those who understand that our planet is under siege by conditions not at all beyond our control if only we have the cajones to adapt to real, doable and existential change. The people with the power to begin to facilitate those changes instead withdraw us from the Paris accords. In their spare time much of their available media soap box privileges are spent subjecting her to school yard style ridicule.
So here we are, certainly not riding with Bing and Bob and Dorothy to Utopia and looking more and more like we are being led down a different road to a destination devoid of sunlight and oxygen. But take care ye of little faith it does not have to be this way. Wash your hands thoroughly and often, stay home if you are sick, cough into your elbow if you must and do the same for sneezing. If you exercise, continue to do so to keep your resistance up and always wipe your machines. If your immune system is compromised due to age or respiratory conditions avoid densely populated configurations. Stay as healthy as you can. Take your vitamins. You still might get sick but the healthier you are the more tools you have to fight back. Heed the medical professional and the scientists, not the propagandists. It should be fairly easy to spot the differences. Take heed but don’t surrender to panic.
For all the challenges facing us, medically, culturally, politically, for all the villains and bad actors remember there are also young Swedish girls committed to saving us from ourselves, and noble immunologists and others who are going to work night and day to get a handle on this virus. There are care workers worldwide feeding and tending to the victims of our species own inhumanity to itself. There are still volunteers in our cities reaching out and bringing a touch of humanity and clothing and perhaps a chance for a hot meal to the homeless and home bound. There are still first responders who willingly run into deadly situations that most are running away from with the intention of saving human lives. There are still puppies and kittens and children playing in playgrounds as well as larger folk communing in taverns over a cold one and sporting events on the telly. There are still books being written, plays being produced, movies being screened, music being played, dances being danced, and all sorts of art being created. Students continue to thirst and acquire knowledge and with such acquisition in time we will all be served. There are still babies being born, like my brand new grand niece who I have yet to make the acquaintance but who I already love like the dickens and even more than Charles Dickens, and yes there are still my own bad puns. There is still love, our most important ingredient. With love and smarts we can and will survive. Spring is almost here and starting today we get some extra hours of sunlight. It may not be the age of Aquarius but nevertheless don’t be afraid to let the sunshine in. In times like these it certainly can be the best disinfectant.